Sunday, June 13, 2010


Is it OK to hide behind e-mail, rather than to talk directly to someone? Does doing so risk escalating a situation that might have been handled more civilly and effectively if done person to person?

Readers were mixed in their responses to an unscientific poll on my column's blog. Of the readers who responded, 43 percent believe it is perfectly ethical to use e-mail to express ideas - and particularly attitudes - that you would be reluctant to express in person, while 57 percent believe that e-mail should be limited to the expression of ideas and attitudes that you'd be comfortable conveying face to face.

As Maggie Lawrence of Culpepper, Va., sees it, the issue is not about ethics.

"It's about manners," she writes. "It's just easier for people to be unmannerly when they have a layer of technology or anonymity - or both - between themselves and the recipient."

Lawrence's observation is well taken, and I generally agree, although my experience with readers who e-mail me has been a notable exception: Even when they write passionately in response to a topic or pose a vexing question to me, by and large they do so civilly. So keep those e-mails coming.

Check out other opinions on the hiding-behind-e-mail question here, or post your own by clicking on "Comments" or "Post a comment" below.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 630 Eighth Ave., 5th floor, New York, N.Y. 10018.
c.2010 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

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